Crowd Erupts With Applause as Audience Voices Support for Referendum
Special board meeting at Nicolet explores putting funding increase on the April ballot.
Nicolet School Board members and district administrators got an earful Wednesday night about their plan to raise school taxes through a referendum.
More than 70 district residents turned out to say it wasn't nearly enough.
Despite decreasing employee benefits, increasing class sizes, fee increases and staff reductions, Nicolet High School District is still anticipating a $1.2 million shortfall in its budget.
Wednesday night, the Nicolet School Board held a special meeting to address a possible funding referendum – and what might happen to Nicolet if a referendum does not pass.
The administration presented a handful of options that might assist Nicolet:
- Making budget changes through fees and state incentives, such as green efforts.
- Reviewing a bidding process for staff health insurance.
- Reducing or eliminating some programs.
- Using the fund balance, a reserve of funds intended to protect the district in dire straits.
Jeff Dellutri, director of business services, said that if additional funding was not approved, forcing the school to dip into its fund balance would only be a Band-Aid fix to a much larger problem, and would lead to yet larger problems to come.
"Yes, it’ll buy you two years, but you’ll never get it back because the community would have to refund it," he said. "You’ve basically spent your reserves, and two years later, you have to make those reductions or go to a referendum.”
So what is the administration proposing?
Instead of the four-year, $2 million-a-year referendum that was floated in a recent district survey, with less than half of residents in support, the administration is proposing a $1 million a year referendum.
That would mean a $60.67 increase on property taxes for a home valued at $250,000, though 2013.
Board member Ellen Redeker pointed out that that numbers in support of a $2 million referendum were fairly low, at only 41 percent.
"If we fail at the higher level, we've got nothing," she said.
And District Administrator Rick Monroe reminded the audience that the only way to exceed the state limit on tax-backed funding was to pass a referendum.
It may have seemed like they were trying to sell the pubic on a half-measure. But audience member Craig Zetley, to loud applause, said $60 wasn't enough.
"If we don't continue to support Nicolet, they'll move out and all our property values will go down. Ask for $120, that's only $2 a week," he said.
"I’ll pledge my support, I’ll write the check," Zetley continued. "You tell me how much to write. Bring the school back to where it was 20 years ago, that shining school on the hill, and get it done, that’s why you're here."
The School Board's presentation went into some detail about specific programs that might be reduced or eliminated even with a lower cost referendum. One cost-saving measure was to eliminate 18 assistant athletic director positions, saving $51,000. But even that did not sit well with the public.
"They serve a function beyond coaching," Darrell Zall of Glendale said. "These kids spend more time with their sports teams than they do at home. If you eliminate that, you’ll get less participation, and you’ll get a social problem that’s going to come back and haunt us."
One audience member is a Nicolet teacher who said that due to his age, he had done everything in his power to try and save a younger staff member's job.
"I’m one of the eldest teachers here," Steve Bazelon, physical education and health teacher said. "I did everything I could to retire so he could keep his job."
Another program the administration suggested eliminating was Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a program that helps students in the middle of the academic scale get ready for college.
Phyllis Santacroce, a social studies teacher at Nicolet, earned thunderous applause for her reply: "These are people who’ve reached out to a group of students that are forgotten, those students in the middle. I can't explain how disappointing and devestating it is to see this program cut."
Dellutri, the finance manager, told the audience and board members what it was like to try and work with Nicolet's budget year after year.
"Since these reductions started in 2004 and 2005, every spring it’s just hell," Dellutri said. "It’s not a fun job here, not a fun place to be at that time of year.
"We’ve lost a lot of quality programming. We try to manage the budget a well as we can."
Principal Greg DePue spoke on behalf of the teachers and of how, with recent reductions, they're already working to the bare bones.
"These members that you see now have picked up the ball and are being stretched beyond their limits," DePue said. "Overall, we continue to be a top-ranked school because of all the people you see here, because they’re being stretched further than they ever have."
Monroe also said that the administration was considering posing a question on the April ballot about a consolidation study, but that was met with quick refusal from audience members afraid that it might lead to confusion.
Zetley, of Fox Point, said, "I’m against putting a consolidation question on the referendum. It confuses the issue. The board should look into it and study it before posing the question."
The next step is Monday's regular board meeting. There will not be a vote for or against a referendum then, but if the board does want to put a referendum question on the April ballot, it must do so before Feb. 18.